What is mindful breathing?
Recall that mindfulness is largely concerned with cultivating awareness. Mindful breathing, then, simply involves paying attention to your breath.
Why does mindfulness meditation begin with the breath?
- The breath doesn’t try to get anywhere: Unlike the rest of your life, where you’re focused on being better, doing more, or rushing to get something done, the breath mostly “just does what it does”. Halliwell suggests that you can “learn a lot from the natural rhythm, pace and unfussiness of the way breath continues its work”.
- The breath teaches steadfastness: Developing awareness of and continually coming back to the breath, cultivates resilience and helps you remain present in the face of adversity.
- The breath happens in the body: Breathing unites the mind and body. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says “if you’re breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong”. Feeling the breath, means feeling life.
- The breath isn’t really that boring: When you stop to think about everything that makes breathing possible, you discover a remarkable and complex process that is generally taken for granted. Focusing on the breath can help you cultivate curiosity for all of life’s unseen jewels.
- You don’t breathe. The breath breathes: If you try to hold your breath or take rapid, shallow breaths, it’s only a matter of time until your body counters any conscious attempts to restrict the breath. Rather than resisting or clinging to breath, it’s best to align and cooperate with the breath.
- The breath invites you to rest and recuperate: Mindful breathing cultivates stillness and space inside your body that helps you recover from the hectic pace of everyday life.
How do I practice mindful breathing?
The Greater Good Science Center suggests that “the most basic way to do mindful breathing is simply to focus your attention on your breath, the inhale and exhale”. This focused attention can be a great way to build awareness of the breath but, especially when you’re trying to calm yourself down or relieve tension, it can be helpful to use specific breathing techniques. These breathing techniques are helpful for adults and children alike. For children, it’s especially helpful to couple breathing exercises with mental imagery.
Consider some of the following breathing exercises that you or your students can do:
Why is it important to breathe mindfully?
- Stimulate brain growth: A 2005 Harvard study found that focusing attention on your breath can increase cortical thickness.
- Improve heart rate variability (HRV): High heart rate variability (greater variance in the time between heartbeats) is an indicator of cardiovascular health and physical resilience (Campos, 2017). In healthy participants, deep breathing practices are known to improve heart rate variability.
- Lower stress levels: Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body rest and digest.
- Alleviate anxiety and negative emotions: Focusing on breathing can help alleviate anxiety, and has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and negative emotions.
- Reduce testing anxiety: In a 2007 study, students who practiced deep-breathing meditation before an exam reported less anxiety and self-doubt and they were able to concentrate better than students who did not practice deep breathing.
- Lower blood pressure: Deep breathing helps relax and temporarily dilate blood vessels. Therefore, doctors suggest that breathing deeply and mindfully for just a couple minutes every day has the potential to lower blood pressure.
- Alter gene expression: By activating the body's “relaxation response”, deep breathing counters the negative effects of stress by actually altering gene expression in the immune system.
Where can I learn more?
What will students learn?
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to…
- Identify what happens to their body and mind when they feel caught up in emotions
- Recognize how and when breathing techniques can be used to calm the body and mind
- Practice deep breathing techniques
Amor, J. (2013, March 6). Five Fun Breathing Exercises for Kids. Cosmic Kids.
Bragdon, L. (2012, January 30). 4 Breathing Exercises for Kids to empower, calm, and self-regulate. Move with Me Yoga Adventures.
Campos, M. (2017, November 22). Heart rate variability: A new way to track wellbeing. Harvard Health Publishing.
Gregoire, C. (2017, December 6). How Changing Your Breathing Can Change Your Life. Huffington Post.
Halliwell, E. (2020, January 7). Why Mindfulness Meditation Begins with the Breath. Mindful.